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Blueberries make beautiful breads, muffins

August 4, 2018

My son, who is 12, likes to talk about baseball players as if he is a highly paid television analyst. In normal conversation, he throws around phrases such as “GOAT” (greatest of all time) and “five-tool player” (a player who can hit for average, hit for power, run fast, throw far and field like a god). Of course, his life goals include growing up to be both.

Sounds great, but for now I’m keeping my day job, and blueberries are my current five-tool players. They are delicious at every meal, available all year long, freeze beautifully, bring in loads of anti-inflammatory nutrients and make for beautiful food.

I used them in the Watermelon Flag Salad at Fourth of July, in jam and yogurt tarts last summer and in ice cream in 2016. They also float nicely in fancy cocktails.

Of course, I’d rather bake with them. For this week, I folded them into what I hoped are at least semi-healthy bread and muffin recipes, one of which even my paleo-dieting husband could squeeze into his bottleneck of a diet. He was appropriately grateful and even asked me to make them again. I’ll be happy to oblige.

A few things I learned:

The Blueberry Oatmeal Quick Bread recipe is probably the least healthy, I guess, made with refined all-purpose flour and white sugar. But it contains Greek yogurt, which adds protein. The oatmeal gives it a nutritional boost as well. So if we just have a slice and somehow keep the rest for later, it won’t kill us. Perhaps it would be best to make it and serve in a group setting, forcing a slice on each of 12 separate people. With a smile. And perhaps butter?

Seriously, this one is delicious, but it’s about portion control. About the only way I could control myself is to cut it in 12 slices and freeze them. All. At someone else’s house.

Speaking of looking good, I think quick breads and muffins (and even pies) always look beautiful with a sprinkle of turbinado sugar on top before you bake them. It’s a less refined sugar than plain granulated white. Sugar in the Raw is one brand of turbinado sugar. It has large brown sugar crystals that have a nice crunch and catch the light and make stuff look absolutely exquisite when it’s finished.

I called the second quick bread recipe “Updated Blueberry Banana Bread” because I’ve decided -- after more than a decade -- that it contains “trendy” ingredients that aren’t going away: agave nectar (as a substitute for refined sugar), coconut oil and almond milk.

Agave nectar is universally available now right next to the sugar at the store. It’s super confusing trying to figure out if agave is an acceptable sweetener on any diet. Some people say it’s better than regular sugar because it contains fiber, is high in fructose instead of glucose and comes from a plant. But just as many people think fructose is even worse for you than glucose, damages the liver and has to undergo quite a bit of refining to be palatable. Pick your poison. You can substitute honey, which has more support. But in the end, sugar is sugar, and portion control is key.

The jury is still out on coconut oil as well, but that genie isn’t going back into the bottle. Many people believe it can slow aging, improve heart and thyroid health, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, arthritis and diabetes, and help them lose weight. Most doctors aren’t convinced, wary of how it can raise bad cholesterol, and say the other claims are better solved with fruits and vegetables rather than a substance that’s so high in saturated fat. Whatever you do, if you like using it, and sometimes I do, use the “virgin” variety, which is less processed and tastes better.

My husband drinks unsweetened almond milk. This one is actually backed by most of Western science, as it contains fewer calories, some fiber, good fat and vitamin E. It’s good for vegans and paleo dieters who don’t drink cow’s milk, and it’s as versatile as cow’s milk in cooking and baking, which is good for cooks such as, well, me.

The muffins contained another of these here-for-good ingredients, gluten-free flour. It’s available at all the supermarkets now. I get Bob’s Mills, which is made from garbanzo bean flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, white sorghum flour and fava bean flour. I’ve just discovered that Bob’s also has a gluten-free flour just for paleo dieters, who don’t eat beans or white potatoes. Of course, it costs almost twice what the “regular” gluten-free flour does, but whatever. Wegmans carries so many gluten-free flours, you could stand looking at them for hours.

The Paleo Blueberry Muffins are actually pretty good if you’re looking to try some of these newfangled tastes in baked goods. They only have 121 calories apiece, so they’re nice to have around if you get an attack of the munchies, or have a diet- restricted friend to cook for. Seems like everyone in my life has some kind of special dietary consideration these days. It’s getting so I feel weird that I don’t. I suppose I probably should, but for now, I’ll just be over here. With the rest of the blueberry bread. And the butter.

Blueberry Oatmeal Quick Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 eggs

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup oats

1 cup blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spray a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with baking spray or canola oil and line with parchment paper, or lightly butter the pan and dust with a spoonful of flour.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, use a fork to mix together the yogurt, eggs, melted butter and vanilla. Fold mixture egg into the dry ingredients. Mix in the oats then gently fold in the blueberries, reserving a few to dot the top of the batter. The batter should be thick and a little sticky.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown and when a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling. Serve warm or at room temperature. The bread will be more firm after it has cooled completely.

Nutrition information per 1/12 loaf: 257 calories; 10 g fat (5.8 g saturated); 56 mg cholesterol; 302 mg sodium; 38 g carbohydrate; 1.2 g fiber; 19 g sugar; 4.5 g protein; foodiecrush.com

Updated Blueberry Banana Bread

Total time: 1 hour, 5 minutes; prep time, 15 minutes; cook time, 50 mins; serves 12

2½ cup all-purpose flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup agave nectar

¼ cup coconut oil

2 eggs, beaten

4 tablespoons Greek yogurt

4 tablespoons almond milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional

½ cup very ripe banana, mashed

1 cup frozen blueberries

2 teaspoons turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 425 F. Grease the bottom of a loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In another bowl, mix agave and coconut oil. Whisk together eggs, yogurt, almond milk, vanilla and banana.

Add flour mixture to egg mixture just until moistened. Do not over-mix.

Use a rubber spatula to fold in blueberries and scrape batter into prepared loaf pan. Smooth batter and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

Bake 10 minutes at 425 F. Reduce heat to 375 F and bake 30 to 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool 10 minutes on wire rack before removing bread from pan.

Nutrition information per 1/12 loaf: 209 calories; 6 g fat (4.4 g saturated); 32 mg cholesterol; 200 mg sodium; 36 g carbohydrate; 1.3 g fiber; 14 g sugar; 4.1 g protein; adapted from www.callmepmc.com

Paleo Blueberry Muffins

Total time: approximately 30 minutes; prep time, 10 minutes; cook time, 18-22 minutes; makes 10-12 muffins

1½ cups gluten-free flour

1 tablespoon honey or agave

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup plain Greek yogurt

1 large egg

4 tablespoons melted, cooled coconut oil

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 375 F and spray wells of a standard muffin tin with Pam for Baking.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, combine honey, vanilla, Greek yogurt, egg and coconut oil. Add this mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Do not overmix.

Fold in the blueberries and fill muffin wells ¾ full with batter.

Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Nutrition information assuming made 10 muffins: 121 calories; 10 g fat (6.1 g saturated); 22 mg cholesterol; 167 mg sodium; 4.9 g carbohydrate; 0.4 g fiber; 4.3 g sugar; 1.4 g protein; adapted from www.callmepmc.com

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